I begin this review by saying that I am not a newbie about Ambient Light Rejection (ALR) Screens. Since 2013, I follow the evolution of the famous Black Diamond screens (by seeing and comparing samples of them) and, in 2014, I bought the Zebra screen, considered the state of the art in terms of ALS screen until then, even better than Black Diamond and its competitors.
This initial explanation is necessary because what you will read next may seem just the excitement of a guy who had never owned an ALR screen before. But it's not the case. I'm talking about the Dark Energy screen.
The Dark Energy screen I bought was 110 inches (larger than Zebra, which was 96 inches) and it was installed in the same room and on the same wall as the Zebra screen was installed earlier. This room has four doors, one of which is to the outside of the house, so that it comes with a lot of lighting.
In addition, the room has three windows (with direct incidence of the sun). All these windows are located on the wall in front of the screen, ie behind the projector (an Epson Pro Cinema 6030). This was a matter which was worrying me, because no ALR manufacturer recommends their screens for environments where there is a light source (such as doors or windows) behind the projector. Even so, I decided to take a chance.
Unexpectedly, the Dark Energy screen worked very well despite this room setup....Oh, do you believe that a lot of friends disbelieved when I said that what was installed on the wall (the Dark Energy screen) was a projection screen and not a big 110-inch LED TV, as they thought? I think it happens because of the very dark material of the screen, besides the thin (0.4 in) black aluminum bezel.
The Zebra screen, which I had previously, had, according to its manufacturer, a gain of 1.4, while Dark Energy has allegedly a gain of 0.9. In practice, however, Dark Energy is infinitely brighter than Zebra, as you can see on the attached photos (which is even more incredible considering that the size of the 110-inch Dark Energy projection is 30% larger than the projection of the Zebra screen, with just 96 inches).
I’m not saying that manufacturers are lying about the gain values of their screens. The secret here is that, when you talk about "brightness gain", there is a peculiarity that few manufacturers mention: the location where the projector should be installed in order to get that gain mentioned in the specifications. Let me explain.
Zebra is a "retroreflective" screen, so that the light that hits the screen returns concentrated to the same location where the light source is (ie the projector). In my case, the projector is installed in the ceiling. So, the maximum gain (1.4) would only be noticeable if I placed the projector directly in front of my eyes, which is totally unavoidable both by the aesthetic question and by the noise of the projector near the ears of the spectators. Or if I sit on the ceiling ...
Dark Energy, on the other hand, is an "angular-reflective" screen, which means that the light returns concentrated to the opposite direction of the place of the projector. In my case, the projector is installed on the ceiling, which causes the screen to get maximum gain exactly at the height of my eyes, when I'm sitting just below. It works just like magic, see the pictures!
The Dark Energy screen has a totally neutral color, as can be seen in the images, unlike the Zebra screen, which had an annoying yellowish tone.
High contrast, by definition, consists of the screen's ability to display the brightest white as possible, while retaining the darkest black, giving it depth.
In the case of highly illuminated environments, obviously the challenge is to keep black really "black", not only gray.
Regarding the ability to reject ambient light, Dark Energy is simply phenomenal, as you can see in the attached photos. Despite the highly illuminated environment, it is possible to enjoy very deep blacks.
It is true that the Zebra screen (as well as the Black Diamond) is also excellent in the ability to retain the depth of black, however, as stated, the perception of contrast depends on the ratio between black and white. About this, Dark Energy is unbeatable, as it can also display an extremely pure white and high brightness.
All this makes Dark Energy deliver incredible contrast, better than any ALR screen I've ever tested, or even seen in its videos on the internet.
I can summarize, just to make it clear, by saying that the Dark Energy screen has a better contrast than my LG LED TV.
An effect inevitably present in ALR screens is "sparkles”, something like tiny points that seems like glitter. What varies from one ALR screen to another ALR screen is the amount of sparkles and the intensity of their brightness.
As I said initially, my projector is an Epson Powerlite Pro Cinema 6030, which can emit the incredible amount of real 2,400 lumens.
On ALR screens, this large amount of brightness can be a problem as it increases the intensity of the sparkles in the brightest scenes. But not in Dark Energy . While the sparkles are irritatingly visible more than 3 meters away on the Zebra screen (even in half-tone scenes), they are barely noticeable in Dark Energy at any distance.
On the contrary: the subtlety of the sparkles creates a very nice uniform texture on the screen, reminiscent of the best movie screens. I'm able to say that if I were to choose a screen with 100% smooth texture or Dark Energy texture, I’d prefer the texture of Dark Energy because it gives more realism to the projection.
Amazingly, what struck me most about the Dark Energy screen wasn’t its high brightness, its neutral color nor the small amount of sparkles. It was the viewing angle.
Seriously, I’ve never imagined that an ALR screen could have a viewing angle as large as that of the Dark Energy screen.
It isn’t an overstatement to say that, on the Dark Energy screen, the image is perfectly visible at any angle.
While Zebra promised a full 70 degree angle and I considered the image to be viewable at most up to 30 degrees, Dark Energy advertises having a full viewing angle of 90 degrees, but I consider - no exaggeration at all - that Image is excellent at any angle, even at 179 degrees.
Unlike the Zebra screen, whose image became very dark as I moved off-center, the loss of brightness of Dark Energy is practically negligible, even at the most critical angles. And you can check this by viewing the attached images too.
So, is Dark Energy a perfect screen, being able to reject all the ambient light and reflect only the light of the projector, with a perfect viewing angle too? No. After all, the laws of physics exist to be fulfilled.
Joking aside, the presence of hot spotting in Dark Energy is definitely noticeable in some images, perhaps a litter bit more than in the Zebra screen.
For those who do not know, hot spotting is the visual perception one has about the center of the screen being brighter than its edges (considering that you are sitting in front of the screen in the center).
In Dark Energy, hot spotting only catches attention in scenes where your brain imagines that there should be a uniformity of brightness throughout the image, but there is not. In other scenes, the hot spot goes completely unnoticed.
Hot spotting becomes a little more noticeable if you're sitting too off-center. For example, if you are sitting too far to the right, the right part of the screen will look brighter; if you are sitting too far to the left, the left part of the screen will seem brighter.
Finally, there are two very important observations:
1) Every ALR fabric manufacturer recommends a minimum installation distance between the projector and the screen for the purpose of reducing hot spotting. In the case of the Dark Energy screen, the manufacturer recommends that the projector be installed at a distance equivalent to at least 1.6 times the width of the screen (for example, if the screen is 5 feet wide, then the projector must be installed at 8 feet or more far away). In my case, due to the layout of the room, the projector was installed at a distance of 1.2 times the width of the screen. It means that I am not obeying the instructions of the manufacturer regarding this requirement.
So please take it in consideration when viewing the images and noting the presence of the hot spot. It is possible that, if the projector was installed in the correct position, the "hot spotting" would be much less noticeable.
2) I do not know why, but the images taken by the camera tend to show much more hot spotting than there is in real life. If I could quantify, I would say that the pictures show as much as the double of the hot spotting that is perceived by seeing the screen in person. Take this into consideration too.
It was not by chance that I focused the review on the comparison between the Zebra screens and Dark Energy. I could have written this review comparing the Dark Energy screen to the Black Diamond samples I have, but Zebra was already superior to Black Diamonds in all respects.
As I said earlier, the Zebra screen was considered state of the art until this year of 2017, when Dark Energy started being officially commercialized (in 2016, a preliminary version of Dark Energy was sold for beta testers).
So, nothing better than a true Clash of Titans (Dark Energy vs Zebra) to prove that the new Dark Energy screen has left all competitors eating dust.